Friday, December 4, 2009


More than 6500 girls in grades 3 to 8 are scheduled to turn out for this Saturday’s 5K Reindeer Romp Fun Run, hosted by Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia. Be there to cheer the kids on at the Reston Town Center on Saturday, December 5, starting at 8:30 a.m.

“We were blown away by the response and support we have gotten for this event and sold out so fast that we actually had to turn some runners away,” explains executive director Catherine Keightley. “I believe that is simply a testimony to the power of this program.”

In fact, more than 3000 girls in nearly 180 schools from all over Northern Virginia have participated for the last 10 weeks in our Girls on the Run program to empower girls with a greater sense of self-awareness, self esteem and healthy living through the power of running.

“This run is the culmination and celebration of their efforts, and pairs the girls with a buddy runner to help them achieve their goals,” Keightley adds.

Sponsors of the event include Argon ST (, Fitness Together (, PTR Group, Potomac River Running, and the Reston Town Center.

For more information about the run, contact Catherine at (703) 405 5727, and visit

Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Protect Yourself If There's a Pandemic

No parent wants to think about a pandemic, but on the anniversary of 9-11 terrorist attacks we're reminded that the worst is always possible. Here are some good tips to keep in mind.

The best strategy

To reduce the risk of becoming ill with pandemic influenza, avoid crowded settings and other situations that increase the risk of exposure to someone who may be infected. If you must be in a crowded setting, minimize your time there. Some basic hygiene and social distancing precautions that can be used in every workplace include the following:

· Stay home if you are sick.
· Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or with a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
· Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
· Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve. Dispose of tissues in no-touch trash receptacles.
· Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
· Avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with coworkers and customers.
· Avoid shaking hands and always wash your hands after physical contact with others.
· If wearing gloves, always wash your hands after removing them.
· Keep frequently touched common surfaces (for example, telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.
· Try not to use other workers' phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
· Minimize group meetings; use e-mails, phones and text messaging. If meetings are unavoidable, avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with others and ensure that the meeting room is properly ventilated.
· Limit unnecessary visitors to the workplace.
· Maintain a healthy lifestyle; attention to rest, diet, exercise, and relaxation helps maintain physical and emotional health.

For more information, see Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic, OSHA Publication No. 3327, which can be accessed at

Another important step is to be prepared for an emergency

Here are three easy things you can do to be ready for what may come:

1. Prepare an emergency kit — It should include essential items to last at least three days such as a battery-powered radio and extra batteries, food, water, flashlight, a first-aid kit, blankets and medications.

2. Make a plan — Discuss the hazards and threats for your area and what your family would do during an actual emergency. Decide on a meeting place in case you cannot return home and designate an out-of-town friend or relative as a point-of-contact.

3. Stay informed — Local media will announce important instructions from local, state and federal officials. They will tell you about evacuation orders, how to safely stay where you are and when the emergency ends.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Birthday!

With my 45th birthday just around the corner, my dearest friend Lisa sent my this column by The Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett. "To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 Lessons Life Taught Me," Regina wrote when she posted it on June 6. "It is the most-requested column I've ever written." Not surprising. And for the record: The author has been said to be 90, but in her June 6 column she fessed up to not her real age: 53. See that column here:

Regina Brett's "45 Lessons Life Taught Me"

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first pay check.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion, today is special.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time.

31. However good or bad a situation is , it will change.

32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

42. The best is yet to come.

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."

Remember: Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

G is for Green

From organic peas to natural wooden toys, most adults are determined to expose their little ones only to the safest items. These days, many are also looking for environmentally friendly children's products. Execs at the UK-based publishing company Priddy Books have taken the cue from these savvy customers, and recently launched the Organic Baby book series, which is printed on recycled paper with soy ink, as opposed to the traditional cardboard-and-petroleum-ink menthod.

“We’ve always wanted to do our best to protect the environment for future generations, and using recycled paper and soy ink seemed like a great idea,” says Bill Kelly, associate publisher for Priddy Books North America. “Plus, many retail chains that carry our books are insisting on it. We couldn't ignore it.”

The big question for Kelly was whether the books—which are mostly color photographs—would look as good printed on recycled stock. Another issue was whether the soy ink would hold up, say, when toddlers chewed on them. After months of safety tests (including Costco’s own lab) and research on Priddy’s target market of babies to 8-year-olds, it turned out that books printed on 60 percent of recycled material and 40 percent regular paper looked great and held up just fine.

Indeed, it’s tough to tell that one Priddy’s newest titles, Organic Baby Animals, isn't printed on cardboard with petroleum ink. Vivid photographs of pets (cats, goldfish, and puppies), babies on the farm (chicks, foal, and lambs), animals in the forest and woods (frogs, alligators, and squirrels) have reproduced clear and crisp. Although we didn’t do a lick test, the oversized board book stood up to a recent trip to the beach.

Like all Priddy Books, there are guidelines on the back for parents that provide information on the skills the book enhances—such as speaking skills, 100 first words, and details on the benefits of using recycled paper and printing with soy ink. “We don’t overtly advertise that these books are environmentally-friendly, but our parent’s guide on the back cover offers information on what each book is supposed to accomplish in terms of skill level,” Kelly notes. “No one trains you on how to be a good parent, so we try to help whenever possible.”

Kelly and Priddy know of what they speak. Both have been in the children’s book business for decades, working first for the children’s book publisher DK Books before that company was purchased to Macmillan in 1999. The businessmen suggested to their new bosses that they start a children’s division, and since 2000 Priddy Books has been the imprint on most of Macmillan’s children’s atlases, dictionaries, and non-fiction titles. Four books have been published so far in the Organic Baby line, and several more are on the drawing board.

Although Kelly says he and Priddy are excited about using more natural materials, their real mission is to help kids stay in touch with the magic of childhood. “Whereas children used to like whimsical illustrated books, today they are into reality and interaction,” Kelly confesses. “That’s why most of our books feature photographs of real kids, real animals, and real dinosaur models. But we don’t want them to lose their imagination.” Although it’s nice for a parent to read a story to the child, they believe it’s more educational for the child to become involved in the process. “At Priddy Books, we strive to strike the perfect balance.”

Article by Hope Katz Gibbs for The Costco Connection, April 2009.

Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer and lover of all things organic. She does her best to be green in her x-urban home in Northern Virginia.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Top Educators Under 40" — Scholastic Administrator magazine

In its February issue, Scholastic Administrator magazine picked 10 "Top Educators Under 40," including our friend Peter Noonan, Fairfax County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services.

Reporter Caralee Adam asked: How is a younger generation is changing the face of education? She wrote, "To overcome the enormous challenges facing our schools today, new leaders must emerge—leaders who believe that they can change the system, who demonstrate relentless energy and unyielding passion, and who hold tight to an unwavering commitment to always put children first. Their task is daunting, to say the least, but here is the good news: Some of them are already here. Whether teachers or superintendents or CEOs, these superstars of education are, first and foremost, innovators, and all of them are 40 years old or younger. Out of hundreds of possible candidates, Scholastic Administator chose ten to share their stories here. Through their own words, you’ll feel their frustrations, hear of their accomplishments, and see how their vision for a new day is transforming our schools."

Noonan, 40, said:

*About his job:* Responsible for curriculum and instruction for 168,000 students, who, among them, speak 140 different languages.

*Why he loves his job:* “It allows me to focus on what is most important in education: instruction.”

*The challenge:* “Grasping the magnitude of what needs to be done.”

*Biggest accomplishment:* Setting up eCART (Electronic Curriculum Assessment Resource Tool) for all teachers to access their curriculum and lessons plans electronically.

*Education policy wish:* “We need to take a hard look at NCLB. The intent and spirit was good. But we have some outstanding educators and schools that have been labeled as failing, and that has a devastating effect on the community.”

*What’s next:* “I have a lot of work to do in this position. I have no intention of going anywhere soon.” But ultimately? “I’d like to become a superintendent someday.”

The other educators profiled included:

• Robert Scott, 39, Commissioner of Education, Texas Education Agency, Austin, TX
• Susan Patrick, 38, President and CEO, International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Vienna, VA
• Ron Clark, 37, Founder, Ron Clark Academy, Atlanta, GA
• David Schuler, 38, Superintendent, Township High (IL) School District 214
• Michelle Rhee, 39, Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools
• Kimberly Oliver Burnim, 32, Teacher, Broad Acres Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD
• Meria Carstarphen, 38, Superintendent, St. Paul (MN) Public Schools
• David Levin, 38, Cofounder and Superintendent, kipp Academy, South Bronx, NY

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Former Sec. Margaret Spellings talks about 21st Century Skills

Former secretary of education margaret Spellings visited Fairfax High School on November 19 to view the AVID program and observe other cutting-edge initiatives it has embarked on with the goal of improving students’ 21st Century Skills.
As one of the principal authors of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, Spellings said throughout her four-year tenure, “We cannot prepare students for the global economy if we don’t get them to grade level first.” In 2005 she convened a Commission on the Future of Higher Education to recommend reform at the post-secondary level.

The reason for concern, she explained during her trip to FHS, is that students are not being adequately prepared to land jobs after they graduate from high school. Spellings pointed to a national survey of human resource executives that reported:
• Nearly 70% believe high school graduates fall short when it comes to critical thinking skills
• 81% say high school grads have deficient writing skills
• Almost 1/3 said they will reduce their hiring of employees that only have a high school diploma

The Language Lab Spellings’ first stop on her tour of FHS was Michele Campbell’s Spanish 4 classroom. Soon after the Secretary took a seat in the language lab, baskets containing interconnected headsets were mechanically lowered for students to use. The system enables students to hear the lesson Campbell is delivering. The roar of the giant machine slightly startled Spellings, who looked to the student seated to her right for assistance. “It’s ok, Mrs. Spellings,” said Edward Koh, the junior beside her. “This lab helps us learn to speak Spanish more fluently, and that actually makes learning a lot of fun.”
Spellings smiled a relaxed grin, then intently listened along with the other students. She later spoke with Campbell about the relevance of the high-tech approach to reinforce 21st Century Skills.

“For years, language teachers have been successful in teaching students to read and write in a foreign language, but not to hold fluent conversations,” explained Campbell, who is chairman of the language department at FHS. “The headsets are wired to the teacher console and docking station so as students practice their interactive communicative activities I can listen in and provide immediate feedback with the click of the mouse. The lab allows for communication between paired and grouped students without wasting valuable class time. I have seen a marked improvement in the students' fluency and willingness to speak in the target language.”

AVID Spellings then traveled to Eric Kinne’s freshman AVID class. A three decades-old program, AVID stands for Advancement through Individual Determination and targets students in the academic middle—B, C, and even D students—who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. “In a nutshell, AVID helps students who are capable of completing rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their potential,” said Kinne. “Typically, they will be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from low-income or minority families. AVID pulls these students out of their unchallenging courses and puts them on the college track. Our focus is acceleration—not remediation.”

Kevin R, 15, said he doesn’t know what he’d have done without the AVID program. “My AVID teacher has also helped me realize that college is something I should shoot for,” explained the freshman who hopes to get a scholarship to Boston College. “I think one of the most important things is that I learned how to take notes, and that helps me better focus on what the teacher really wants me to learn and remember.”

Proper note taking is something few students seem to know how to do instinctively, Kinne admitted. “We teach our students the fundamentals of organization, and make sure they use one notebook instead of several binders. Inside it, they keep their pencil case filled with pens and highlighters, pencils and sharpeners, and most importantly use the Cornell Note-taking System to organize what they are learning.

State-funded, independent research, together with AVID’s own data, validate that the AVID college-readiness system works, Kinne adds. “Studies show that AVID students are more likely to take AP classes, complete their college eligibility requirements, and get into four-year colleges than students who don’t take AVID.”
Indeed, almost all AVID students who participate for at least three years are accepted to college, and roughly three quarters get into four-year colleges or universities. AVID also helps ensure students, once accepted to college, possess the higher-level skills they need for college success. (For more, visit

Bottom line The final stop on Spellings’ tour of Fairfax High was a meeting with two AVID students, teachers, Fairfax City and Fairfax County Public School officials to discuss the impact of the powerful AVID program.
Jim Nelson, the CEO in charge of the administration of the AVID program who accompanied Secretary Spellings on the FHS field trip, said he was very impressed with how well students are doing in Fairfax County.

“Doing well in life starts by doing well in school,” Nelson told the group of about three dozen people that had gathered for the last leg of the tour. “Ultimately, it’s about rigor. Our goal is to teach AVID students to master the academic program so they will be prepared to master all the challenges and opportunities they will face throughout the rest of their lives.”

Peter Noonan, FCPS Assistant Superintendent for the Department of Instructional Services, commented that the coursework offered in the AVID curriculum also helps close the achievement gap. “It has been my experience and observation that students in the AVID program feel incredibly engaged and supported,” Noonan said. “It’s a moment in time when they feel the school saying, ‘We are on your side. We are going to challenge you, but we are also going to do everything we can to support you.’ That’s very powerful and something we aspire to do for all of our students.”

Fairfax High Principal Scott Brabrand echoed Noonan’s belief, and added the AVID program also serves to hold the school and teachers accountable for results. “It’s one thing to have high expectations for all of our students, but to ensure they actually learn exactly what they need to get a job after high school or get into a two-year or four-year college is something we can measure. This program, along with other lessons and classes that teach 21st Century Skills, is the first step in making sure every student is successful.”

Secretary Spellings then turned to FHS guidance counselor Renee Service to find out how Fairfax High has engaged so many students and gotten them to participate in the AVID program. Service responded that she and the other guidance counselors do exactly what a good employer will do when these students graduate. “We have them sign a contract saying they agree to complete the course, and have them promise they’ll take at least one AP class,” she said. “In exchange, we make sure they know what to expect, and we hold an AP Boot Camp to prepare them for the rigorous classes we know they can handle. It’s a system that seems to works for everyone.”